Flight from the Reich by Debórah Dwork and Robert Jan Van Pelt

Subtitled “Refugee Jews, 1933 – 1946″, this work attempts to answer the persistent question asked by those studying and learning about the Holocaust: Why didn’t more Jews flee Nazi Europe? Those able to flee were largely children and young adults “recused” because of their age and/or ability to assimilate into a new culture. For millions of other Jews — young and old — their options were severely limited.

The movements and options of refugees were heavily restricted by both the Nazis and the countries they were trying to find refuge in. Quotas on the number of refugees entering the United States, for example, remained largely unchanged throughout the war. At one point, the Nazis were more interested in forcing Jews to flee Germany and its annexed territories than genocide; there was a plan to relocate all Jews to Madagascar. This plan was rejected by both the Allies and the Axis powers.

The catalyst for the change in their plans was the invasion of the Soviet Union. The USSR actually absorbed a lot of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees before the invasion despite the country’s history of antisemitism. Once the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, however, Jews previously expelled along with millions more were back in the Reich’s territories.

I’ve heard some of this information before in two classes taught by Dwork so I found that I was more intrigued with the sections on post-war refugees. The end of the war didn’t mean that Jews (and other refugees) were able to return to their homes. Their families were gone; their property and resources stolen and redistributed. Many of them didn’t want to return to living next door to neighbors that had turned their backs on humanity. Except, the victors in the war still didn’t understand the magnitude of what had happened. Jews freed from concentration camps found themselves forced into displaced persons camps, many of which much of a step up. Many of these survivors became refugees all over again as their right to return and citizenship were in question.

This wasn’t my favorite book by Dwork and Van Pelt. I found it to be rather dry and lacking the connection I’ve found with previous books by this duo. Still, I continue to learn something new every time I read a book by Dwork and Van Pelt, which is always an obstacle when reading multiple books on a subject.

Book Mentioned:

  • Dwork, Debórah and Robert Jan Van Pelt. Flight from the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933 – 1946. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. Print. 496 pgs. ISBN: 9780393062298. Source: PaperBackSwap.
Book Cover © W.W. Norton. Retrieved: June 1, 2012.

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